Spyro has had a hard time coming of age. Because the past few Spyro games have been lackluster at best, it's easy to see why developer Krome Studios has decided to go back to the very beginning and rethink the Spyro formula for the little purple dragon's next game, The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning. We had a chance to take a look at the PlayStation 2 version of the recently announced game at a Vivendi pre-E3 press event.
As the subtitle implies, this game goes back to Spyro's roots. The game begins with Spyro still nestled comfortably in an egg and follows him as he's raised by dragonflies in a swamp. Spyro has no idea that he's a dragon, much less that he's a special dragon who is destined to save the world from ruin at the hands of a huge black dragon named Cinder. It seems that Cinder is trying to resurrect some evil force, and it's up to Spyro to stop her.
A New Beginning is focused much more on combat than the previous Spyro games. In fact, in the short demo we saw, there was very little platforming. The combat system has been fleshed out to give Spyro tons of different moves and abilities. Spyro can perform melee combos, aerial combos, breath attacks, or any combination of the three.
There are four elements with three attacks in each, for a total of 12 different attacks. These attacks can be leveled up by spending gems that you collect in each level. You can max out your favorite breath attacks as soon as possible or try for a more well-rounded repertoire--it's up to you. The attacks look good, and the strength and area of effect increase dramatically as each attack is leveled up. There are lightning attacks to shock your foes; ice attacks to turn them into snowballs, which can then be hurled at other enemies; fire attacks to burn your enemies; and earth attacks to pound them into submission. The strength of the attacks is dependent not only on how you've distributed the gems, but also on the nature of the enemy you're attacking. For example, a fire breath attack won't do much against a magma worm.
In addition to the breath and melee attacks, Spyro can use special fury moves. These are super moves that inflict massive damage over a wide area. There is one fury move for each element, with an additional unlockable move for each element. These fury moves can be devastating and are a great way to clear out multiple enemies.
The level design in the game is built to suit the combat-oriented gameplay. The levels we saw seemed darker and more imposing than in previous Spyro games. There are a lot of open areas to allow for unobstructed combat. There are seven different environments in the game, and the ones we saw stuck closely to the elemental theme. There's an ice world with a jagged, frozen landscape; a volcano world with erupting pools of lava; and so on. There are also five boss fights in the game, and apparently the developer is trying to make those battles fit with the story, rather than simply inserting a perfunctory boss at the end of each stage.
It's not all head-butts and fireballs for Spyro, though. The little guy can and will need to take to the sky once in a while. There are a few flying levels in the game that play like rail shooters. In the one we saw, Spyro was trying to escape from a cave while being chased by Cinder. We also saw a level where Spyro was on a mine cart chasing after a runaway train. He had to destroy the caboose of the train for some reason, but of course with the roller-coaster-like design of the track, that didn't look so easy. These levels appear to offer a reprieve from the combat-intensive parts of the game, and although they aren't particularly original, they look like they could be fun.
The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning still needs some work before it ships this October, but from what we saw, it looks like it's coming along nicely. We're hoping to get some hands-on time soon to see how the combat system feels, so be sure to check back soon for more details.